It’s strange how footballers can end one season playing in a certain way, come back six weeks later after their summer break, do a bit of pre-season work and then proceed to look a far better performer when the new campaign gets under way than they did three months earlier. The transformation can be explained to some degree I suppose if the player involved is a youngster who is still growing and if they are benefiting from being a full time footballer for the first time in his life, but not all of that applies to City winger Kadeem Harris who has started this new season so well.
Last season Harris was a regular starter for the successful City Under 21 Development team and, on his day, he could be a very effective member of it as well. However, he tended to blow a bit hot and cold, his finishing was similarly erratic and he had a tendency to fade out of games if things weren’t going his way. Now, last night’s 1-0 win over Swansea City’s Under 21’s at Cardiff City Stadium was the first time I’ve seen him play this season, so I suppose it’s best not to make too many sweeping claims on the basis of one game, but he looked a completely different player from the one I’d seen in the previous eighteen months – he was probably the most effective player on the pitch.
I say that I shouldn’t make snap judgments on the basis of one match, but it does have to be said that all of the reports I’ve read him so far this season say Harris has been playing very well and what cannot be denied that he is in great goalscoring form – last night’s matchwinner was his ninth goal of the season. I’d also say that he looks stronger in the upper body this season – he’s better equipped to hold off opponents than he used to be. Maybe the growing process I referred to earlier might have something to do with this change, but I suspect it might have more to do with sessions on the weights – if he has been “bulking up”, then it’s good to see that this doesn’t appear to have had a detrimental effect on his pace.
However, I suspect the thing which is making as big a contribution to the difference between the 2012/13 Kadeem Harris and the 2013/14 one is that oh so vital thing for any professional sportsperson – belief. Harris looked like a confident footballer with faith in his ability to get the better of his opponent(s) – Swansea tried to double up on him at times in the second half last night.
There are still wrong decisions taken occasionally and I’d like to see more awareness of what is going on around him in terms of team mates movement off the ball, but I’d say that Harris looked like a player ready for a first team call up in next week’s League Cup tie at West Ham last night. Certainly, if you were just going by the ninety minutes against Swansea, he would be the one I would pick if the last place in the side came down to a choice between him and Craig Noone – Nooney had his moments, but it was one of those frustrating “typical winger’s” games from him where as much, if not more, didn’t work for him as did.
Based on last night, Harris’ improvement from last season has been a dramatic one, perhaps the same cannot be said of striker Rhys Healey, but I liked what I saw of him against the jacks. Going back to the youngsters growing theme, I saw little tangible evidence of that, but Healey has definitely got stronger physically. Last season he looked promising, but his slight frame meant that he was often brushed off the ball quite easily by defenders and the idea of him playing in a lone striker’s role would have been ludicrous. However, that’s what he did last night and, although, just like the rest of the team, he faded somewhat after we took the lead, he made a decent job of leading the line.
The bigger Swansea centrebacks weren’t able to dominate Healey physically and, when he got the chance, he showed a sharpness in thought and deed which went some way towards showing why his goalscoring record at this level is so good. He didn’t add to his goal tally, but it needed a desperate block by a defender to foil one surging run into the penalty area, impressive visiting goalkeeper Zabaret made a couple of good saves to deny him and there was also an overhead kick which the keeper couldn’t reach, but flew inches wide.
I’ve already mentioned Craig Noone’s contribution and of the other senior players on show I thought Jordon Mutch looked too good for this level for about an hour, but then lost a little focus for the remainder of the match. As for Simon Lappin, who filled in at centreback (I’m not aware of him ever playing in that position before in his career), he and captain Deji Oshilja did go missing on one occasion in the first half where a simple looking through ball left Rory Donnelly through on goal, but, apart from that he did well and his ability to pass the ball accurately from the back certainly helped the team. Donnelly was foiled by Simon Moore from that chance I mentioned just now and, overall, our new keeper looked clam and composed – his kicking was particularly impressive and he also made a good block in the closing seconds as the jacks strove for an equaliser. Of the other players, there wasn’t any one who had a poor match and I enjoyed the contributions of Tommy O’Sullivan with his clever passing and Theo Wharton with his good all round game.
As for the match itself, it offered good entertainment throughout. City started well and there were times in the first twenty minutes when a goal looked inevitable for them – Mutch, Healey (twice), Noone and Harris were all close to putting us ahead, but Swansea rode out the storm and had a five minute spell where they caused City all sorts of problems as Moore foiled Donnelly, winger Gorre had a goal disallowed and then nutmegged Luke Coulson before hitting the underside of the crossbar with an angled shot and, finally, it took an outstanding challenge by Oshilaja to deny Lee Lucas as he bared down on goal.
Given their strong finish to the first period, the jacks being level at the break was probably just about right, but City began the second half very strongly and, once again you had the feeling that a goal was definitely coming as Harris and Healey were denied by Zabaret, the latter went close with his overhead kick and Mutch headed on to the roof of the net and then saw his deflected effort headed off the line by Donnelly. All Swansea could offer in reply was another effort from Gorre which hit the woodwork, but, when they forced a corner after sixty three minutes they were probably thinking that, just as in the first half, they had got through a Cardiff onslaught and could now put something together themselves. Instead though, the corner was cleared to enable Coulson to go on a fifty yard run down the right as City counter attacked and his fine cross was volleyed in from about eight yards by the unmarked Harris.
As mentioned earlier, City lost their way a little after that and only looked like adding to their lead when Zabaret came a long way off his line to deny Healey, but was then helpless as Coulson floated a forty yard lob over his head only for a defender to get back and head off the line. City’s fade out ensured that they had to endure a more nerve wracking finale than their overall performance merited, but they held on to record a victory which means that their 100% winning record at this level is still intact for the season while also maintaining the jacks 100% losing record in the league!
Finally, there’s always something you can find to moan at the club about if you want to, but they deserve credit for their decision to offer free entry to last night’s match (this resulted in what looked like a more than half full Grandstand from where I was sat) and for the way they had people coming around handing out team sheets to anyone who wanted them while the game was going on – well done to all concerned.
* picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/